Linda Ohr

Linda Milo Ohr

Initially positioned as products targeted toward the elderly, brain health products are now marketed to demographics like newborns, toddlers, adolescents, adults, and baby boomers. These foods and beverages contain ingredients that aid in brain development, help mental performance, enhance memory, and prevent cognitive decline. Here is a review of some of the ingredients and foods that not only nourish the body but feed the brain, too.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and arachidonic acid (ARA), have repeatedly been linked to improving brain health in people of all ages. In newborns through toddlers, omega-3s are reported to promote brain development. From childhood through adulthood, the fatty acids are important for cognitive function. Dalton et al. (2009) suggested that supplementation with food-based omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids improved the verbal learning ability and memory of children ages 7–9 with very low background intakes of omega-3s. They gave subjects a specially formulated spread containing omega-3s from fish flour. A 25 g serving of the spread provided approximately 335 mg of alphalinolenic acid, 80 mg of EPA, 190 mg of DHA, and about 23 mg of ARA. After the test period ended, EPA and DHA levels were significantly higher in the subjects who took the supplements compared with those who did not.

Aberg et al. (2009) showed that frequent fish intake at age 15 was associated with significantly higher cognitive performance three years later in healthy young male adolescents. In 2000, all 15-year-olds in the western region of Sweden were requested to complete an extensive questionnaire with items on diseases, fish consumption, and socioeconomic status. Questionnaire data from the male respondents were linked with records on intelligence test performance at age 18. There was a positive association between the number of times eating fish per week at age 15 and cognitive performance measured three years later. Fish consumption of more than once per week compared to less than once per week was associated with higher scores in combined intelligence, verbal performance, and visuospatial performance.

As the body ages, omega-3s are believed to help prevent cognitive decline and, potentially, Alzheimer’s disease. Albanese et al. (2009) conducted a large, multi-country cross-sectional study that showed fish consumption is associated with a lower chance of dementia. The study suggested that the link between fish consumption and dementia in people from developed countries generally, though not always, applies to people from developing countries, too. The report included seven countries—Peru, Mexico, China, India, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Venezuela—and looked at the consumption of meat and fish and the prevalence of dementia in adults age 65 or older.


At the Berry Health Benefits Symposium in June 2009, researchers discussed the benefits that berries like strawberries and blueberries have on the brain. Joseph et al. (2009) showed that old rats fed diets containing high-antioxidant strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, or raspberry extracts, or walnuts for two months exhibited reversals of the age-related deficits in neuronal function or cognitive behavior. Subsequent experiments in both cell and animal models conducted by the researchers have indicated that polyphenols in berries, and perhaps the polyunsaturated fatty acids in walnuts, may have anti-inflammatory/oxidative stress (INF/OS) properties. The results from cell models suggest that berries may prevent the deleterious effects of INF/OS by actually blocking the stress signals (e.g., nuclear factor kappa B). The results of a collaborative study found that elderly people with memory loss who were given up to 12 oz of blueberry juice twice a day for 12 weeks showed significant improvements in cognition.

Huang et al. (2009) examined the effects of flavonols (quercetin, kaempferol, and myricetin) and flavones (apigenin and luteolin), total flavonoids, and strawberries on change in cognitive function over five cycles for a total of 15 years among 3,774 subjects, age 65 years and older.

They found that quercetin, kaempferol, flavonols, total flavonoids, and strawberries had significant protective effects on cognitive decline. The subjects who consumed more than one serving of strawberries/month had a slower rate of cognitive decline than those who consumed less. This rate of decline was modified by gender, but not with race. Females who consumed more than one serving of strawberries/month had a 16.2% slower rate of cognitive decline; males had non-significant increased rates of decline.

Williams et al. (2008) showed that supplementing the diet with blueberries (2% w/w) for 12 weeks improved the performance of old animals in spatial working memory tasks. This improvement emerged within three weeks and persisted for the remainder of the testing period. Although causal relationships cannot be made among supplementation, behavior, and biochemical parameters, the measurement of anthocyanins and flavanols in the brain following blueberry supplementation may indicate that changes in spatial working memory in old animals are linked to the effects of flavonoids.

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Chan and Shea (2009) showed that mice receiving the human equivalent of 2 glasses of apple juice/day for 1 mo produced less of a small protein fragment called beta-amyloid that is commonly found in the brains of individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition, Tchantchou et al. (2005) suggested that consuming apple juice may protect against cell damage that contributes to age-related memory loss, even in test animals that were not prone to developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. The researchers indicated that these results are encouraging for individuals who are interested in staying mentally sharp as they age.

Antioxidant Vitamins

Deficiencies in antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene have been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and poor cognitive performance. Chaudhari (2009) cites two studies that link antioxidant vitamins to cognitive function. The Chicago Health and Aging Project investigated the association between dietary intake of several nutrients and incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in 1,000 elderly men and women and age-associated cognitive decline in 3,700 elderly men and women over a 6-year period. The results showed that higher intakes of vitamin E were associated with a reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease (26% reduction in risk of incidents of Alzheimer’s for every 5 mg of vitamin E/day increase) and a slower rate of cognitive decline.

The results of the second study involving 3,800 elderly subjects found that increasing quartiles of vitamin C intake alone or combined with vitamin E at baseline were associated with higher scores on cognitive function tests. In a 7-year longitudinal follow-up, those subjects with lower vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene intake had a greater acceleration of cognitive decline.


Phospholipids are natural building blocks of the human brain. A commercial phosphatidylserine, Sharp PS® from Enzymotec Ltd., Israel (phone +972-74-717-7177,, is said to help improve memory skills. Taking 300 mg of Sharp PS/day for 6 weeks significantly improved memory recognition and memory recall, according to the company.

The company also offers Sharp-PS® Gold , a phosphatidylersrine-DHA conjugate that mimics the structure-function of human phosphatidylserine to better activate memory and mental performance. Another phospholipid product, Sharp GPC™, is an alpha-glycerophosphatidylcholine, a highly bioavailable source for choline and precursor for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. The ingredient is said to help adults striving to maintain cognitive skills, young adults seeking to improve cognitive capabilities, the aging population facing the deterioration of their cognitive function, and people suffering from dementia such as Alzheimer’s or brain injury.


Citicoline is a natural nutrient found in every cell of the body, particularly brain cells. Kyowa Hakko USA, N.Y. (phone 212-319- 5353,, recently received GRAS self-affirmation for its Cognizin® citicoline. The ingredient is available as a food ingredient for use at levels of 250 mg/serving in beverages and beverage bases, breakfast cereals, chewing gum, dairy product analogs, frozen dairy desserts, grain products and pastas, hard candies, milk and milk products, processed fruits and fruit juices, and soft candy.

Studies show that Cognizin® supports brain health in several ways, including increasing brain energy, providing essential structural components for synthesizing brain cell membranes, and supporting the formation of brain nutrients that regulate cognitive function. Silveri et al. (2008) showed that there was an increase in brain activity among subjects who had taken 500 mg or 2,000 mg of Cognizin for 6 weeks, particularly when the subjects performed tasks that required sustained attention or memory. All of the subjects had increased levels of specific markers for ATP and increased activity in the frontal lobe region of their brains. This is important because the frontal lobe directs complex thought, decision-making, and attention. Furthermore, age-related declines in cognitive abilities are largely related to deteriorating frontal lobe function.


Naturex Inc., South Hackensack, N.J. (phone 201-440-5000,, launched a trademarked extract of American ginseng, Cereboost. According to the company, in a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover clinical study, 200 mg of Cereboost/day improved working memory and attention. The study showed an increase of attention accuracy, enhancement of working memory speed, and improvement of working memory capacity. The ingredient has a specific profile of ginsenosides, which guarantees its high activity.

by Linda Milo Ohr
Contributing Editor, Denver, Colo. 
[email protected]

About the Author

Linda Milo Ohr is a food scientist and writer based in Highlands Ranch, Colo. ([email protected]).
Linda Ohr


Aberg, M.A., Aberg, N., Brisman, J., Sundberg, R., Winkvist, A., and Torén, K. 2009. Fish intake of Swedish male adolescents is a predictor of cognitive performance. Acta Paediatr. 98: 555-560.

Albanese, E., Dangour, A.D., Uauy, R., Acosta, D., Guerra, M., Guerra, S.S., Huang, Y., Jacob, K.S., de Rodriguez, J.L., Noriega, L.H., Salas, A., Sosa, A.L., Sousa, R.M., Williams, J., Ferri, C.P., and Prince, M.J. 2009. Dietary fish and meat intake and dementia in Latin America, China, and India: A 10/66 Dementia Research Group populationbased study. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 90: 392-400.

Chan, A. and Shea, T. 2009. Dietary supplementation with apple juice decreases endogenous amyloid-β levels in murine brain. J. Alzheimer’s Dis. 16: 167-171.

Chaudhari, R. 2009. Food for thought. Fortitech Technical paper. Jan.

Dalton, A.,Wolmarans, P., Witthuhn, R.C., van Stuijvenberg, M.E., Swanevelder, S.A., and Smuts, C.M. 2009. A randomised control trial in schoolchildren showed improvement in cognitive function after consuming a bread spread containing fish flour from a marine source. Prostaglandins Leukot. Essent. Fatty Acids. 80: 143-149.

Huang, T.L., Tangney, C.C., Li, H., Kwasny, M., and Morris, M.C. 2009. Epidemiologic evidence of antioxidant nutrients and brain health. Berry Health Benefits Symposium, Monterey, Calif. June.

Joseph, J., Shukitt-Hale, B., Fisher, D., and Willis, L. 2009. Quenching the “fires” of inflammatory and oxidative stress: “Food pairings for healthy brain aging.” Berry Health Benefits Symposium, Monterey, Calif. June.

Silveri, M.M., Dikan, J., Ross, A.J., Jensen, J.E., Kamiya, T., Kawada, Y., Renshaw, P.F., Yurgelun-Todd, D.A. 2008. Citicoline enhances frontal lobe bioenergetics as measured by phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy. NMR Biomed. 21: 1066-1075.

Tchantchou, F., Chan, A., Kifle, L., Ortiz, D., and Shea, T.B. 2005. Apple juice concentrate prevents oxidative damage and impaired maze performance in aged mice. J. Alzheimer’s Dis. 8: 283-287.

Williams, C.M., El Mohsen, M.A., Vauzour, D., Rendeiro, C., Butler, L.T., Ellis, J.A., Whiteman, M., and Spencer, J.P. 2008. Blueberry-induced changes in spatial working memory correlate with changes in hippocampal CREB phosphorylation and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels. Free Radic. Biol. Med. 45: 295-305.